In terms of changes, the much maligned duo Alcaraz and Osman joined injured trio McCarthy, Coleman and Barkley in returning to the side that lost in Manchester a few weeks ago. Out went Hibbert, Stones, Besic, McGeady and Pienaar in a line-up which had more of the look and feel of the regular setup from last season. Villa opened up in a 4-3-3 with their headline team news being the return of Benteke after a lengthy injury. The Belgian was joined by one time Everton target N’ Zogbia on the left and serial toffee tormentor Agbonlahor on the right.
Villa sat very deep from the off with a low block on our 18 yard line, seemingly lying in wait to draw us on and then launch quick fire counters when possession was regained. This tactic basically enabled us to dictate play 20 yards from their goal and the lack of pressure on our defenders in the first half was crucial in allowing us to build momentum in the Villa half.
With no pressure on him Jagielka was able to bring the ball out of our half and play in Baines (the most frequent passing move of the game) thus enabling the left wing back acres of space to receive play and drill forward passes into the Villa final third. This was the source of all our early pressure on Guzan’s goal, with Osman and then Lukaku both going close from Baines passes.
For large passages of play in the first half Villa where submerged under a torrent of Everton passing moves, with our possession share swelling to 69% in the first 20 minutes. With Villa teetering on the brink, Barkley’s enterprising play forced 2 corners and the second of these resulted in Jagielka scoring the opening goal following a short corner involving Barry and Baines.
There are usually moans and groans when corners and free kicks in the final third are taken short, something Martinez always favours over the direct delivery. The positive impact it has is in pulling well drilled and organised defenders out of set positions and this is exactly what happened here. That said, the goal was aided and abetted by shocking marking from Cissokho, whose defending throughout was inept.
Villa did have some ‘moments’ prior to the half time whistle, with one counter attack catching Baines up field and resulting in a brilliant last-ditch tackle from McCarthy on Cleverley . The Man Utd loanee midfielder was linked with us in the close season and was one of Villa’s better players on the day; his link up play with Hutton down our right was both Villa’s most frequent and dangerous passing combination, with the duo linking up 27 times.
Villa looked to change things around in the second period, with Richardson moving to the left of midfield and Agbonlahor moving central alongside Benteke in more of a 4-4-2, however it did little to turn the growing tide against them.
The return of Barkley and his refreshing blend of pace, power and close control was a great shot in the arm for us, and he played a significant role in our second goal.
After McCarthy picked NZogbia’s pocket in the centre of midfield, two quick one touch passes from him and then Barkley took us to the Villa 18 yard line, resulting in Lukaku’s left footed drive eeking over the line with some help from Guzan. It was Barkley’s first actual assist in the top flight.
With Pienaar introduced for Barkley, Villa now had a further problem as the South African along with Osman and Baines were all buzzing with intent down their beleaguered right side.
After McCarthy snuffed out a Villa throw in their own half a slick 13 pass move ensued with Villa’s shadow chasing ending with Weimann hacking the South African schemer 20 yards from the Villa goal. With the quick thinking Osman realising Hutton and Weimann had turned their backs on the ball, he swiftly freed Baines whose centre was duly despatched by fellow wingback Coleman.
If you take a look at the goal again have a look at Kieran Richardson taking a look over his shoulder at Coleman running past him and doing absolutely nothing – it was comedy defending of the highest order and enabled the Irish marauder to ghost past Cissokohno. Take nothing away from Baines, though, he teed up six of our twelve chances and took his assist tally to 7 in all competitions for the season, already his best yield since the 11 he bagged in 2010/11.
All that was left was for late cameo’s for Eto’o and Gibson and a final laugh as Joe Cole’s protracted career demise entered its latest insignificant chapter, as he replaced Benteke who had been well shackled by Alcaraz throughout.
This was a much-needed return to winning ways for the Blues, with both the result and performance excellent and hopefully it’ll act as the vital re-boot our season required.